A pie chart, using information from November 2017, showing the numbers and kinds of NGOS designated as “foreign agents” by the Russian Justice Ministry. Moving clockwise, the chart shows that 24 Russian human rights organizations have been registered as “foreign agents,” along with 4 NGOs working on healthcare issues, 2 trade union associations, 6 analytical and social research organizations, 3 women’s organizations, 10 civic education organizations, 9 media support organizations, 3 ethnic minority organizations, 7 NGOs involved in defending democracy and democratic principles, 11 humanitarian and social welfare organizations, and 8 environmental organizations. Courtesy of Deutsche Welle. As of November 15, 2019, there were ten media outlets listed as “foreign agents” by the Russian Justice Ministry, including Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), and eight RFE/RL affiliates.
Russian Duma Adopts Law on Designating Individuals “Foreign Agents”
Olga Demidova Deutsche Welle
November 21, 2019
The Russian Duma has passed a law bill on designating private persons as “foreign agents” in its third and final reading. On Thursday, November 21, the bill was supported by 311 of the 315 MPs who voted. No one opposed the bill, although four MPs abstained.
Two days earlier, the Duma’s committee on information policy approved amendments to the bill in its second reading. The amendments make it possible to designate individuals as “performing the functions of a foreign agent” and thus on a par with legal entities. They can be deemed “foreign agents” if they create content for media outlets that have been designated “foreign agents” or distribute their content while receiving foreign funding.
Media outlets already registered as “foreign agents” will have to establish Russian legal entities in order to operate in the Russian Federation. In addition, they must mark their content as having been produced by a “foreign agent.” Leonid Levin, chair of the Duma’s information policy committee, promised the law would not been used against bloggers and current affairs commentators. Individuals would be designated “foreign agents” by the Justice Ministry and the Interior Ministry, which Levin argued would prevent “unreasonable” rulings.
In July 2012, the Duma amended several laws regulating the work of NGOs. The amendments obliged NGOs that engaged in political activities and received foreign funding to register as “foreign agents.” The NGOs were to indicate this designation on their websites, for example, and provide regular financial reports. There are currently over seventy organizations in Russia registered as “foreign agents.”
Thanks to Marina Bobrik for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader
The law on individual foreign agents is innovative in the sense that the people who drafted it and pushed it have not disguised the fact it is meant to be enforced selectively. Certain critics have even remarked that this is a good thing: only a few people will be affected. I think they are wrong, but I wanted to talk about something else. It is no secret that laws are enforced selectively in Russia, but so far none of the laws that have caused a public stir has been meant to be enforced selectively. Now that has changed. A law that is selectively enforced is clearly no law at all, but a specimen of lawlessness, and so the new law is anti-constitutional. Unfortunately, it is pointless to challenge the law in the Constitutional Court, and not only due to the court’s peculiarities. After all, the authorities have not hidden their intentions and motives, but nor have they admitted them aloud. It is their usual M.O., the old “you just try and prove it” gambit. In fact, a good response would be a barrage of lawsuits petitioning the authorities to designate as “foreign agents” public loyalists they would have no wish to hurt, but who are 100% guilty if the letter of this law were obeyed. However, the human rights movement, which could take up this cause, has been defeated, in particular, by the previous laws on “foreign agents.” The way to lawlessness is thus open.
Opponents of Plato Road Tolls System Complain to European Court of Human Rights They Have Been Victims of Political Persecution Their Organization Was Earlier Ruled a “Foreign Agent”
Anastasia Kornya Vedomosti
December 26, 2018
The Association of Russian Carriers (OPR), an organization of independent truck drivers the Russian Justice Ministry placed on its list of “foreign agents” late last year, has filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights (EHCR) in Strasbourg, claiming its right to freedom of association had been violated and it had been subjected to political persecution, in violation of Article 11 and Article 18 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as reported by Alexei Glukhov, a lawyer with the Agora International Human Rights Group who represents the OPR in Strasbourg.
The OPR emerged during the campaign for the rights of truckers that kicked off after the Plato road tolls payment system went online in November 2015. The OPR brought together independent truck owners and truck drivers. In June 2017, it announced it was planning to nominate its chair, Andrei Bazhutin, as a candidate for the Russian presidency. Shortly thereafter, the Justice Ministry launched an audit of the OPR, resulting in its being ruled a “foreign agent.” The ministry cited four donations from private individuals in Germany, totaling 3,620 euros, as evidence of “foreign financing.”
In a report on its oversight of the work of “foreign agent” NGOs in 2017, the Justice Ministry claimed the OPR had engaged in “political activity” by “organizing and holding events calling for the resignation of the Russian federal government.” In June of this year, the Krasnogvardeisky District Court in Petersburg fined the OPR 400,000 rubles [approx. $5,755] for failing to voluntarily [sic] register itself as a “foreign agent.”
The complaint says the OPR has been a nuisance to the Putin regime since the organization has led the campaign against the Plato road tolls payment system, which ultimately benefits businessmen closely allied with the Kremlin. The truckers are certain it was their grassroots activism that caused the authorities to persecute them. The fine leveled against the OPR not only was far in excess of the foreign donations it received but has also financially ruined the organization.
Glukhov points out the ECHR has received several dozen complaints from Russian NGOs labeled “foreign agents” by the Russian government, but the court has not yet ruled on Russia’s “foreign agent” law and its application in practice. However, the court has communicated the facts of the first large group of cases to the Russian authorities, while a second group of cases was nearing completion, meaning that a ruling on complaints filed by Russian “foreign agent” NGOs could be expected next year, argues Glukhov. The OPR’s complaint is part of a third wave of complaints filed in Strasbourg. As they await the court’s ruling, Russian NGOs continue to suffer from the harsh law.
Everyone has the right to complain to the EHCR, but the Russian Justice Ministry begins to work with a complaint [sic] only after the court has communicated its consent to hear the case, says Andrei Fyodorov, head of the office of Russia’s representative to the EHCR.
Lawyer Dmitry Agranovsky says the EHCR has rarely ruled that Article 18 of the European Convention has been violated. Recently, however, in response to a complaint filed by opposition politician Alexei Navalny, the court ruled Russia had violated Article 18. The ruling was a precedent of sorts. Agranovsky has the sense that, before the Navalny case, the court’s Grand Chamber had postponed other cases in which Article 18 had been invoked, but now it had worked out a common set of rules that could be applied in other cases as well. On the other hand, there was a risk Article 18 would be devalued, Agranovsky warns [sic].
[Three] Years of Plato: How Russian Authorities Forced Truckers to Pay Road Tolls
[Three] years ago, on November 15, 2015, Russian authorities launched the Plato system (“Plato” is an acronym for “payment for a ton” in Russian) to collect tolls from owners of heavy-duty trucks traveling on federal highways. The authorities claimed their goal was to compensate for the damage the trucks caused to roads. It was decided the toll would be applied to owners of trucks weighing over twelve tons. Photo courtesy of Maxim Stulov/Vedomosti and RBC
The right to develop and implement Plato was awarded to RT Invest Transport Systems without tendering. The company is owned on a parity basis by Igor Rotenberg and RT Invest, which is 25.01% owned by Rostec and 74.99% owned by Andrei Shipelov’s firm Tsaritsyn Capital LLC. The Russian government agreed to pay Plato’s developer and operator 10.6 billion rubles [approx. $153 million at current exchange rates] annually. Photo of Igor Rotenberg courtesy of Nikolai Galkin/TASS and RBC
Opposition politician Alexei Navalny and Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) lawyer Ivan Zhdanov asked that the courts declare the government’s agreement with RT Invest Transport Systems null and void. Their lawsuit was rejected first by the Moscow Court of Arbitration, and later by the Russian Constitutional Court. Photo of Alexei Navalny courtesy of Yevgeny Razumny/Vedomosti and RBC
Truckers in forty Russian regions protested against Plato in November 2016. They demanded Plato be turned off, a three-year moratorium imposed on its use, and the system be tested for at least a year. Photo by Yevgeny Yegorov/Vedomosti and RBC
When Plato was launched in November 2015, truck drivers paid 1.53 rubles a kilometer. Four months later, the authorities planned to double the toll, but after negotiations with truckers they made concessions, reducing the toll increase to 25%. Since April 15, 2017, the authorities have charged trucks 1.91 rubles a kilometer. Photo courtesy of Sergei Nikolayev/Vedomosti and RBC
However, even the discounted [sic] toll increase did not sit well with all truckers [sic]. On March 27, 2016, the OPR went on what it called an indefinite nationwide strike. Truckers protested the toll increases and demanded fairness and transparency at weight stations. Photo by Yevgeny Razumny/Vedomosti and RBC. [The slogans read, “Down with Plato!!! It’s Rotenberg’s Feeding Trough” and “We’re Against Toll Roads.”]
In October 2017, the government approved a bill increasing fines for nonpayment of Plato tolls from 5,000 rubles to 20,000 rubles. If passed, the law would make it possible to charge drivers for violations that occurred six months earlier. The new rules were set to take effect in 2018. Photo of Dmitry Medvedev courtesy of Dmitry Astakhov/TASS and RBC
Plato’s database has registered 921,000 vehicles weighing over twelve tons. According to the Russian Transport Ministry, during its first two years of operation, Plato raised 37 billion rubles for the Federal Roads Fund. In the autumn of 2017, the government selected three projects that would be financed by the monies raised by Plato: a fourth bridge in Novosibirsk and bypasses around the cities of Chusovoy (Perm Territory) and Khabarovsky. Photo courtesy of Georgy Shpikalov/PhotoXPress and RBC
Vehicles that transport people are exempt from Plato tolls, as are emergency vehicles, including vehicles used by firefighters, police, ambulance services, emergency services, and the military traffic police. Vehicles used to transport military equipment are also exempt from the toll. Photo courtesy of Gleb Garanich/Reuters and RBC
Three Last Address plaques on the house at 27 Dostoevsky Street, in downtown Petersburg
Squealing on the Executed: Who Wants to Remove the Last Address Plaques?
Tatyana Voltskaya Radio Svoboda
December 6, 2018
Alexander Mokhnatkin, a former aide to Russian MP Vitaly Milonov, filed a complaint with the Petersburg authorities, claiming the plaques mounted on houses throughout the city by Last Address had been erected illegally.
The plaques are barely visible from only ten meters away.
Andrei Pivovarov, co-chair of the Petersburg branch of Open Russia, wrote about the complaint on his Facebook page.
The city’s urban planning and architecture committee has already reacted to the complaint. It said the plaques, which bear the names of victims of Stalin’s Great Terror and have been placed on the walls of the houses where they lived just before their arrests and executions, were illegal.
There are two more plaques right next door, in the gateway of the house at 27 Dostoevsky Street.
“The informer decided the plaques were illegal advertisements? I wonder what for. The Stalinist Terror? He thinks they should be taken down. The Smolny responds to the snitch by indicating there were no legal grounds for putting the plaques up, and special city services would deal with them. It is difficult to guess when the wheel of the bureaucratic machine will turn, but, as Solzhenitsyn wrote, the country should know its snitches. I introduce you to Alexander Mokhnatkin, a man who has denounced people long ago victimized by the state and executed, and who has denounced the memory of those people,” Pivovarov wrote.
Unaware of the Last Address plaque on the wall next to her, a woman walks down Poltava Street, just off Old Nevsky, on a sunny day in October.
MP Milonov argues his former aide’s opinion is his personal opinion. Milonov, on the contrary, welcomes memorial plaques, but he does not like the fact that, currently, ordinary citizens have taken the lead in putting them up. He believes it would be better to let officials take the lead.
“I don’t think it would be good if there were lot of plaques on every house, as in a cemetery. The right thing to do, probably, would be to adopt a government program. The plaques would be hung according to the rules of the program, and protected by the law and the state,” argues Milonov.
When you step back ten or fifteen meters, the same plaque is nearly invisible to the naked eye.
He argues what matters most is “remembering the grandfathers of the people who now call themselves liberals squealed on our grandfathers and shot our grandfathers. Our grandfathers did not squeal on anyone. They died on the Solovki Islands. They were shot in the Gulag and various other places.”
Milonov admits different people wrote denunciations, but he believes the International Memorial Society has deliberately politicized the topic, using the memory of those shot during the Terror for their own ends. The MP argues that erecting memorial plaques should not be a “political mom-and-pop store.” Milonov fears chaos: that today one group of people will put up plaques, while tomorrow it will be another group of people. To avoid this, he proposes adopting official standards.
A Last Address plaque in the doorway of the house at 36 Razyezhaya Street, in Petersburg’s Central District.
On the contrary, Evgeniya Kulakova, an employee of Memorial’s Research and Information Centre in Petersburg, stresses that Last Address is a grassroots undertaking. An important part of Last Address is the fact that the installation of each new plaque is done at the behest of private individuals, who order the plaques, pay for their manufacture, and take part in mounting them. Kulakova regards Milonov’s idea as completely unfeasible, since the municipal authorities have their own program in any case. The program has its own concept for commemorating victims of political terror, and the authorities have the means at their disposals to implement it. Last Address, however, is hugely popular among ordinary people who feel they can make their own contribution to the cause of preserving the memory of the people who perished during the Terror.
A Last Address plaque in the archway of the house at 6 Socialist Street, in central Petersburg.
Kulakov thinks it no coincidence Mokhnatkin has brought attention to the Last Address plaques, since previously he had taken an interest in the Solovetsky Stone in Trinity Square. Apparently, his actions are part of a campaign against remembering Soviet state terror and the campaign against Memorial.
Many Memorial branches in Russia have been having lots of trouble lately. In particular, Memorial’s large annual Returning the Names ceremony in Moscow was nearly canceled this autumn, while the Petersburg branch has been informed that the lease on its premises has been terminated. It has been threatened with eviction as of January 6, 2019.
Three Last Address plaques, barely visible from the middle of the street, on the house at 69 Chernyakhovsky Street, near the Moscow Station in Petersburg.
Historian Anatoly Razumov, head of the Returned Names Center, supports the concept of memorial plaques. He stressed they are installed only with the consent of building residents and apartment owners, and ordinary people welcome the undertaking. Moreover, people often put up the plaques not only to commemorate their own relatives but also to honor complete strangers whose lives have touched them. Razumov says people often find someone’s name in the Leningrad Martyrology. They then get written confirmation the person lived in a particular house. Only after collecting information about the person and obtaining the consent of the building’s residents do they erect a plaque.
“In Europe, such things are always under the protection of municipal authorities. I think we should also be going in the other direction: local district councils should do more to protect the plaques instead of saying they don’t meet the standards and they’re going to tear them down,” the historian argues.
Razumov argues that inquiries like the inquiry about the legality of the memorial plaques are served up under various attractive pretexts, but they are always based on the same thing: the fight against remembering the Terror. Some people want to preserve this memory forever, while others do everything they can to eradicate it by concocting hybrid or counter memories.
The plaques at 69 Chernyakhovsky Street commemorate Vasily Lagun, an electrician; Solomon Mayzel, a historian of the Arab world; and Irma Barsh. They were executed in 1937–1938 and exonerated of all charges in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Boris Vishnevsky, a member of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly, argues that Last Address and Immortal Regiment are the most important popular undertakings of recent years. He is outraged by attempts of officials to encroach on them. He says he has written an appeal to the city’s urban planning and architecture committee.
HIV Prevention Organization in Altai Territory Closes Due to Inability to Pay Court Fine Takie Dela
December 4, 2018
Choice (Vybor), a non-profit HIV service organization, has been forced to close its office in Biysk, Altai Territory, due to its inability to pay a court-imposed fine, reports Kommersant. The NGO had been found guilty of refusing to acknowledge it was a “foreign agent.”
The Altai Territorial Court upheld the ruling of the Biysk City Court, which had fined Choice 150,000 rubles [approx. €2,000] for failing to recognize itself as a “foreign agent” and voluntarily place itself on the registry of “foreign agents.”
According to Maxim Olenichev, a lawyer from Attorneys for Equal Rights who represented Choice in court, on November 30, the organization was forced to close its office and cancel its HIV prevention programs in the region, including programs for intravenous drug users and other risk groups.
“HIV-service NGOS have access to ‘closed’ groups of people who are unwilling to turn to state institutions for help,” Olenichev said in an interview with reporters. “Attacking such NGOS reflects a policy of ‘traditional values,’ a policy focused on criminalizing the actions of people who do not comply with these values or ignore them. By using the law on ‘foreign agents’ to destroy NGOs, the state promotes the growth of HIV-infected people, although by joining forces with NGOs the state could halt the epidemic’s growth.”
The court ruled that several of Choice’s campaigns, during which the NGO handed out HIV express tests (41 people tested positive — TD), over 100,000 clean syringes, and 20,000 condoms for free, were “political” in nature. Choice employees noted they worked with the primary vulnerable groups as defined by the Russian state, using the same methods as specified in the official rules for HIV prevention. The court chose to ignore these arguments.
The court also agreed with the Russian Justice Ministry’s claim that Choice had received foreign funding in 2014 and 2016. Choice received 147,000 rubles from ESVERO, a non-profit partnership, and 272,000 rubles from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
Olenichev pointed out that ESVERO had been implementing a project of the Global Fund for Fighting AIDs, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which receives funding from the Russian government, in thirty-four Russian regions. The NGO was thus using grants to put the money back into the Russian economy. As for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which sponsored Choice with funding in rubles, Olenichev claimed there was no evidence in the case file that the organization was foreign. Nevertheless, the court refused to reverse the fine.
According to the latest data from the Russian Health Ministry, in 2017, 53.5% of new cases of HIV infection were caused by sexual intercourse, while 43.6% of new infections were caused by the use of intravenous drugs. According to official statistics, the number of HIV-infected people in Russia is 998,525. Eighty-one percent of them know they are infected.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has recognized Russia as leading Europe in new cases of HIV infections at 71.1 cases per every 100,000 people. The virus is primarily transmitted through heterosexual sex (59%) and intravenous drug use (30%). The Russian Health Ministry has called these figures “extremely inaccurate.”
In late October, the Saratov Regional Organization of Chronic Diabetes Sufferers announced its closure: a court had also fined it 300,000 rubles for violating the law on “foreign agents.” The expert employed by the prosecutor’s office to audit the organization concluded it had “shape[d] preconditions for discrediting the authorities” and “report[ed] about the region’s so-called sore points to [its] foreign partners.”
Thanks to Alexander Feldberg for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader
“Kadyrov said he would not let us work in Chechnya”
Irina Tumakova Fontanka.ru
March 18, 2016
The Committee for Prevention of Torture has been forced to withdraw from the Republic of Chechnya. Its chair, Igor Kalyapin, a member of the Presidential Human Rights Council, was the latest victim of physical assault there. Kalyapin had long had a troubled relationship with Chechen headman Ramzan Kadyrov.
“Igor Kalyapin was just assaulted outside the entrance to the Hotel Grozny City. He was beaten and pelted with eggs,” Dmitry Utukin, an attorney for the organization wrote on Twitter on Wednesday evening.
Later, Kalyapin recounted what had happened to him.
“Around 6 p.m., I checked into Room 2401 in the Hotel Grozny City,” he wrote on Facebook. “About forty minutes later, two reporters and a cameraman came to my room. While I was still in Ingushetia I had promised to give them an interview as soon as I arrived in Grozny. We had begun recording the interview when there was a knock on the door. A man of about sixty years of age, who introduced himself as the hotel’s general manager, a security guard in a black uniform, and another middle-aged man entered. The manager told me that since I had criticized the head of Chechnya and the Chechen police, while he himself was very fond of Ramzan Kadyrov, I had to leave the hotel. […] After that, I was escorted downstairs, where I was detained by a mob of around thirty women, who had apparently been hastily assembled from hotel staff and the employees of the boutiques located on the first floor. They screamed in unison: how dare you speak ill of Ramzan. When I tried to respond, they screamed loudly: we do not want to listen to you. Nevertheless, I was not allowed to leave the hotel. I realized they were purposely delaying me until a team of assailants arrived. I had let my staff go home in a car before dark, and it would have been wrong for them to come after me at such a time in the evening in Grozny. It was apparent I would not be allowed to check into any hotel in Grozny. Any of my Chechen friends living in Grozny would have been exposed to mortal danger [if I had tried to stay with them]. So basically I was in no big hurry nor could I expect anyone to help me. I tried calling Mikhail Fedotov, chair of the Presidential Human Rights Council. I did not manage to get through to him in time [.]”
In an interview with Kavpolit, Kalyapin said of his attackers, “I believe the men who attacked me were neither Chechens nor Muslims. People who have done such a thing cannot be called Chechens or Muslims.”
Who, then, were the assailants? What had the anti-torture campaigner done to enrage them? Fontanka.ru posed these questions to Igor Kalyapin.
Igor, how do you explain yesterday’s attack on you?
There is no cause to guess here, it is all fairly simple. Over the past two years, Ramzan Kadyrov has personally, frequently, and quite emotionally accused me of various horrible crimes in the Chechen media. He has said I have defended terrorists and financed terrorism in the Chechen Republic, and that our committee are agents of western intelligence agencies who earn money on the blood of the Chechen people. That is a literal quotation. For example, in December 2014, there was a terrorist attack in Grozny in which a dozen Chechen policemen, young guys, were killed.
Yes, that is a well-known story. Kadyrov blamed you personally for the attack.
He addressed people, including the relatives of the dead, and he did this in the first twenty-four hours after the attack, when people were blinded by grief and pain. And he said to them: I know that a certain Kalyapin transferred money from abroad to the organizers of the attack.
Let us also recall he was not angry with you for no reason. You had tried to prevent him from burning down without trial the houses of people suspected of being relatives of the terrorists.
Of course. But he has said it more than once; he has systematically repeated the charges. Only last month on Chechen TV there were two films about Kalyapin: montages of photographs, videos, and screenshots of our website, and all the charges against me read out against this visual backdrop.
So what is the reason? What has your committee done to Kadyrov?
Many of the kidnappings we have tried to investigate have led us to Kadyrov’s confidants. And he knows it quite well: I once personally told him about it. We constantly pressure the Investigative Committee, which deals with these matters, to perform certain investigative actions. They have tried to stop or suspend criminal proceedings, but we have constantly appealed their actions in the courts.
Well, we understand how our courts and investigators work. Could Kadyrov, for example, just not pay attention to your work?
We publicly talk about all of it. We point out that the Investigative Committee in the Chechen Republic has not been investigating such-and-such a case, although the evidence is there: for example, the case of Murad Amriyev, the case of Islam Umarpashayev, and other matters. We point out that a certain person has not been questioned only because he serves in the Akhmad Kadyrov Regiment, and the investigator is afraid to summon him. We have made such things public on many occasions. We have sent white papers on these cases to all the factions in the State Duma. We have periodically appealed to Alexander Bastrykin, head of the Russian Federal Investigative Committee. Moreover, we have done it openly, by publishing reports, and we have talked about cases not being investigated. I have also spoken about this at the Parliamentary Assembly in Strasbourg. There has been a lot of press about our work. Naturally, it infuriates Kadyrov.
Does it merely infuriate him? Or does he see your work as a serious threat?
Apparently, he does in fact see it as a threat. I think that from time to time he get signals he should stop illegally prosecuting people he does not like. I imagine the powers that be wag their finger at him. Until you stop, they say, your republic will be written about as a lawless land.
Why has everything intensified in recent days? The incidents involving your committee in a single region have been in the headlines for a week running. Whose toes have you stepped on lately?
No, there were incidents before this, too. It was just that nobody wrote about them. If it were not for the March 9 attack on the journalists, which made such a big splash, then no one much would have written about my getting pelted with eggs, probably. The two incidents just happened to coincide. In fact, we have been under intense pressure for at least the last two years. Many things have happened. I cannot detail all of them right now.
For example, three days ago, there was an incident at your committee’s office in Grozny.
Yes, three nights ago, people broke into an apartment in Grozny we use as an office. They tried to turn off the security camera. They thought they had succeeded, but the camera kept on working. So on the recording you can see Emergency Situations Ministry officers and police officers breaking open the door and entering. Then, apparently, they got to the router, and the signal went dead. Basically, one of the reasons I came to Grozny was to get to the bottom of what was going on with the apartment: inspect it, file a complaint with the police, and so on.
Your colleagues at the committee told Fontanka.ru that security officials also went into your office in Ingushetia on March 9.
It was not an office in Ingushetia, but an apartment where we kept documents. And that is important, because we have not done any work in Ingushetia. We do not have a single case in Ingushetia. We do not annoy the security officials in Ingushetia in any way. Moreover, I have had a great relationship with Yunus-bek Yevkurov, head of Ingushetia, and he has had generally good relations with human rights activists, even with the ones who annoy him. So Yevkurov was not behind it, of course. I cannot tell you who these people were. But people at the level of the North Caucasian Federal District have got involved, and I imagine the Interior Ministry could easily establish whether it was policemen or someone else.
Meaning, you are confident they have decided to figure it out?
No, I’m not confident, not confident at all. But if anyone can figure it out, it has to be federal district officials. But if it was security officials who were involved, they were not from Ingushetia.
Why could your committee’s employees not work in Chechnya quietly, without advertising themselves?
That is the specific nature of our work. We are not gathering information, after all; we are lawyers. We are constantly involved in public legal proceedings. Once or twice a week, for example, we are involved in court hearings dealing with the Investigative Committee’s unlawful actions or their inaction. The court sessions are open to the public. Information about them is posted at the entrance to the courthouse or on the court’s website. We are simply legally bound to operate publicly. That is, we have three areas of work: we do paperwork and file documents in court, we are involved in court hearings, and we take part in police investigations. It is quite easy to identify us. And there is nothing to be done about it.
You work to prevent torture, which is a crime. Theoretically, the state should have a stake in the success of your work. How does it help you? Perhaps by physically protecting you?
You know yourself how it “helps” us.
What if I didn’t know?
The work of the Committee against Torture, which is purely juridical and wholly confined to criminal proceedings, was deemed work aimed at changing state policy, and as such the committee was placed on the register of foreign agents. Honestly, I still have not recovered from the shock. We never denied we received foreign funding, but to say that the Committee against Torture had been trying to change state policy is—
A full confession?
In my opinion, it is self-incrimination. When a person says such things, it is called self-incrimination. But here it was the state saying this. Nevertheless, our organization was deemed a foreign agent. So now we have another organization: the Committee for Prevention of Torture does not receive foreign funding. True, they are trying once again to register us as foreign agents. Because they feel like it.
Okay, money from foreign organizations is a very bad thing. But has the Russian government subsidized the prevention of torture?
In 2013–2014, we got our first state subsidy, a so-called presidential grant. Then the organization was declared a foreign agent, and we announced we did not intend to go on working with this status. We discontinued operations and registered the new organization, which for the time being has not received anything from anyone.
How do you survive, then? Legal aid, trips to the regions (you operate in more than just Chechnya), and collecting information are probably all expensive things, no?
Legal aid is not the most expensive thing. And what information collecting do we need to do if people come to us themselves? We need money for other things—for collecting evidence and conducting forensic examinations, and for ensuring people’s safety. We very often send victims to a sanatorium, not only so they get medical treatment there but also to spare them from the intrusiveness of the law enforcement agency whose officers we suspect of having committed the crime. This is what we need money for. For example, last year a man sought our help. He told us a deputy minister of the Chechen Republic had tortured him: the minister had attached electric wires to his body and so on. The victim was in hospital. Moreover, he was disabled: he had only one leg. And he showed us so-called electrode traces, claiming they were evidence of torture. We had this conversation approximately a week after he had been tortured. To force the Investigative Committee to accept this as evidence, you need to carry out a quite complicated forensic examination. So we sent this man with a chaperon (since he was disabled) off to Moscow. In Moscow, we contracted with a licensed, state-accredited forensics bureau, which offers paid services among other things. They did the examination. When we did the numbers, it turned out the examination alone cost us over 100,000 rubles [approx. 1,300 euros at current exchange rates]. They are not always so expensive, but such forensic examinations are required in each case.
So maybe the examinations should be conducted at government expense as part of the investigation.
The Investigative Committee is not going to conduct them, and not only because it is expensive but also because they are afraid of finding out the results. When it does not want to deal with a criminal case, the Investigative Committee’s primary tool is delaying the forensic examination so it is impossible to establish either the nature of the physical injuries or the circumstances in which they were received. So in each case we have to carry out the forensic examinations ourselves.
But someone does pay for it, don’t they? Who are they? Charities, private sponsors?
Our work is divided. There is the Committee for Prevention of Torture. It employs lawyers who go to court, file appeals, and so on. It is a public organization that has no foreign funding. But there is another organization, also noncommercial, which works on the forensic examinations, collects evidence, and so on, that is, on things where money is absolutely necessary, including international protection. It receives foreign funding.
Have I understood you correctly that the fight against torture in Russia is subsidized by foreign organizations?
Yes, that is correct.
You want to return to Chechnya. I gather that the challenges you went there to solve have not been addressed.
The task I have already told you about has lost its relevance. I wanted to inspect our apartment in Grozny, but it is clear I am not going to be allowed to do that. So we will have to solve the problem differently. For example, attorneys can inspect the apartment along with police officers. But I had another objective: to try and organize a press conference in Grozny. Now I would not even risk inviting anyone to go there. In Chechnya, there are reporters who write good things about Kadyrov, and they are not in any danger. But those who have at one time or another permitted themselves even a bit of criticism had better not go there.
What will happen now to the cases your committee has been handling in Chechnya? Will you abandon them?
No, we do not abandon cases. We simply do not have the right, either the moral or the legal right. We will continue to be involved in them. For the time being, I cannot say how we will set up the work and where our lawyers will do the paperwork. It is obvious we will not be allowed to work in the Chechen Republic. Kadyrov himself has said so many times. But we will continue the work itself.
Your staff will still have to travel to Chechnya, won’t they?
Yes, they will. But we are officially involved in criminal cases as counsel for the victims. The investigative authorities are obliged to ensure our safety. They had better do it.
Dront’s certificate of inspection was brought to our offices on Tuesday. I felt very bad about it all day. Plus, there was a lampoon on a stupid Nizhny Novgorod site (which I will not advertise here, of course) in which I was targeted personally. I even recalled the favorite joke of my youth, which I haven’t recalled for over ten years.
Piglet comes to Winnie the Pooh’s house and sees that the whole place is filled with blood. The bear is lying on the floor, his stomach ripped open, his guts hanging from the chandelier.
Piglet anxiously asks, “Winnie, Winnie, do you feel bad?
“Do I feel bad? Do I feel bad? Yes, it’s curtains for me!”
Because the problem is not the obvious disadvantages of this status, which we will legally challenge, of course. The problem is “faith in humanity.”
For an evening I lost my faith in humanity.
What has to be going through a person’s head to seek proof of “political activity” amongst people who protect nature on behalf of all citizens, and hence them as well? What kind of person do you have to be, for example, to classify money paid to do an analysis of a proposal to raise the level of the Cheboksary Reservoir as foreign financing, since the money came from the WWF (the Russian office of WWF, by the way)? I just hope that those three beauties from the Ministry of Justice who inspected us live somewhere in the Leninsky District, and their houses will be flooded when the reservoir rises.
Oh, to find out where they live and never to stand up for that corner of the city again. Let them build all the auto service centers and waste incineration plants right there!
And why do so-called patriots (we were inspected at the behest of the National Liberation Movement) so hate the natural environment in their own country? On the other hand, they love power in all forms. This phenomenon, incidentally, has haunted me for a while. So some people have decided they are “Russian patriots,” and what do they do? That’s right, they set out to spoil the lives of people trying to do something good for their country. I still remember those young men, “Russian patriots,” who six years ago tried to attack me, a pregnant Russian woman, just because my female friends and I were coming back from a protest rally against a nuclear power plant. Of course, there are different views on atomic energy, and debates can be very emotional, but it’s a matter for debate, damn it, not a matter for a fist fight. And they would have attacked us, and maybe even stabbed us with something, but we ran and got on a bus, and the driver closed the door on them. One young man with wicked eyes kept banging his fists against the windows, spewing out his anger and hatred. Roman Zykov, that wasn’t you, by chance? And now you’ve grown up and become an informer?
During its April 17, 2015, broadcast, the NNTV program Itogi nedeli aired a segment on the “foreign agent” case against Nizhny Novgorod’s Dront Ecological Center. The segment begins at the 1:40 mark, with the presenter explaining that the Ministry of Justice launched its audit of Dront after receiving a complaint from Roman Zykov of the National Liberation Organization (NOD). Zykov is interviewed on camera beginning at the 5:25 mark. He is identified as NOD’s “information officer.”
To be honest, I don’t understand any of this. I can’t get my head around it. I don’t believe there are people who really are happy, for example, if a highway or an asphalt plant is built near their home in place of a forest. People can be indifferent to environmental topics or indulge in pessimism because “everything has been decided, nothing can be changed.” I have seen this many times. But for people sincerely to desire the deterioration of their habitat, that I can not imagine. And I don’t understand how it can be called “patriotism.”
Well, the heck with them, the informants.
So the certificate of inspection was delivered to us. Here it is, this wonderful document. Of course, we have proven to be “foreign agents”: the law interprets the concept as broadly as possible. The inspectors had to prove a quite simple theorem: that we have foreign money (we can check off that box), and that we are engaged in political activity, that is, that we haven’t exactly been sitting on our asses but have been doing something. (Here we could check off a hundred boxes if we so desired.)
And the law does not require a logical connection between these parts of the theorem. It matters not a squat that the money was for one thing, and something else was deemed “political activity.”
Damn, when I was in university, “politics” meant being involved in the struggle for power. Nowadays, if you say it would be good idea to amend a law, you’re already a nasty political intriguer. And even if you praise a law, you’re an intriguer as well, because it is none of your damn business to evaluate laws.
You might think that all Russian environmental legislation is absolutely perfect: that it was handed down to us in the sacred tablets, and each word was cast in gold. This, to put it mildly, is not true. Moreover, these laws are constantly amended and changed, meaning the authorities are aware of their imperfections. It suffices to mention the new law on waste management. It was completely turned inside out and redrafted. I don’t really understand why we should stop criticizing laws.
The whole business with foreign money is also ridiculous.
After all, it doesn’t matter to the inspectors that the funds have been earmarked, for studying turtles, for example. (And, in fact, protection of animals is not deemed political activity, and that is stipulated in the law.) Or for seminars on sustainable development. Or for a public impact assessment of the proposal to raise the level of the Cheboksary Reservoir. No one except the WWF provided any money for this—no state agencies, no legislators, no businessmen—although the entire Nizhny Novgorod Region rose up as one against the proposal.
And it doesn’t matter that all these funds were not only earmarked but were quite small sums (less than one percent of our annual budget) and could not significantly have impacted our operations. We would have criticized the same laws even without this money. But who is interested in logic if you just have to tick off some boxes?
In short, the young female inspectors proved the theorem to their own satisfaction. But I just don’t have the heart to call them lawyers, because, for example, they don’t distinguish between federal and municipal (i.e., local) government. (Maybe employees of the Ministry of Justice don’t necessarily have to have a law degree?) Apparently, the way they see it, all power is sacred and should be beyond criticism.
Well, my depression has passed. It has been nice to see that many people support us and have stood up for us. It has been nice to read your kind words.
P.S. I will not approve any vicious comments, if they show up.
Translated by the Russian Reader. You can see the list of Russian NGOs included in the registry of “foreign agents” (as of May 15, 2015) here. This list is constantly updated, apparently.